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My aunt passed away recently, and after her memorial service, my cousin Patrick mentioned that he was grappling with several tasks that he hadn’t realized would be quite so time-consuming. Why? Of the three kids in his family, he was the one named executor.

My parents have asked me to be the executor of their wills, too. But like many people who have been tapped for this role, I don’t have a thorough grasp of all the duties that involves. My cousin’s situation reminded me that it sure would be helpful to get prepped on that now — well before memorial-service time, when emotions would be high and pressure would be on.

So I called up Mary Randolph, a lawyer and author of The Executor’s Guide (a super-detailed, step-by-step book that’s a must-read), and asked her: What are the three most important things someone like me should do now, while her parents are still around? Her answer:

  • “Make sure you understand what your parents own and where it is. Lots of people have little accounts, insurance policies, and pieces of jewelry tucked away that get overlooked.”
  • “Find out if they have a will or trust and where it is. You’ll need to be able to get quick access to the signed original, not a copy.”
  • “Get everyone on the same page now about what to expect. That might mean arranging a meeting with your parents and siblings to talk about who will get what and why. The goal is to avoid surprises — because surprises are what cause problems later.”

Do any of you have tips from your own experience from serving as an executor that you’d like to share? Please post to the Comments section.

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